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Bin Laden and Strategic Culture of the United States

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TEHRAN, May 15 (ICANA) – Announcement of Bin Laden’s death by President Obama on May 1, 2011, has been the most important news and security development in the world and countries or international and regional players which have remained indifferent to it are but a few.
Sunday, May 15, 2011 11:56:52 AM
Bin Laden and Strategic Culture of the United States

This story can be analyzed from various angles: Who was Bin Laden and what he did? What was his relationship to the United States and what Washington did to him? Apart from sensational news, a fundamental question which can be posited here is about ups and downs of the quest for Bin Laden and their relation to strategic culture of the United States. What relationship has existed between the rise of Bin Laden more than 10 years ago and strategic culture of the United States? How mentality of US national security elites and their views which make up what is called the strategic culture of the United States can be analyzed?


Three basic issues should be taken onboard when answering the above questions: “concept and symbol,” “bureaucracy and decision-makers,” and “text and feedback.”


Concept and symbol


The strategic culture of the United States with its long history and many layers is mostly shaped around security and strategic concepts. During the Cold War period, the fight against Communism and reducing the influence of the former Soviet Union were major concepts around which all security relations in the US took shape and they were the most basic strategic concepts in the United States. Following collapse of the Soviet Union the concept of war on terror has turned into the most fundamental strategic concept of the United States around which all strategic and security policies and plans have taken shape.


After the end of the Cold War, the war on terror has evolved into the most axial concept which still draws a lot of attention. The main point about this and other fundamental concepts in the American culture is that the strategic culture of the United States reduces concepts down to specific persons and symbols. This is a cultural habit in the United States to reduce opposing currents down to specific persons and introduce them as the most daunting symbols on which psychological capacities, propaganda and political capacities should be focused. Finally, they try to achieve their strategic goals by building such symbols and when the symbol is destroyed, they try to make the world believe that the enemy that it stood for has also been destroyed.


Examples of this phenomenon included Hitler during the World War II followed by Stalin, after that war. In the recent past, Saddam Hussein, and to some extent, the Libyan Kaddafi and even Panama’s former president, Noriega, were prominent examples of this facet of the political culture of the United States.


Bin Laden had been introduced as symbol of the war on terror on whom the full force of the American hatred was discharged. Thus, his murder will undoubtedly lead to a feeling of triumph over psychological complexes which developed following 9/11 terror attacks. Thus, approval rate for President Obama has risen from below 50 percent in past weeks to over 56 percent after the kill, which attest to the importance of symbols in the American culture.


It should be noted that terrorism and radical movements cannot be confined to persons. Just in the same way that equating Communism to Stalin was not true and his death did not put an end to Communism, the death of Bin Laden as a symbol will not be an end to terrorism, as some American analysts are trying to imply, and the concept of the war on terror still remains in place. Of course, that concept has lost its symbol and this void will lead to challenges for the United States.


The American bureaucratic system and decision-makers, on the other hand, are instrumental in processing symbols and their physical eradication which should be taken into account here.


Bureaucracy and decision-makers


The security establishment in the United States is vast and includes a spectrum varying from CIA to other intelligence agencies. Every one of them acts independently and regardless of who heads them, do their job in security and strategic areas. Such institutions as the State Department, Defense Department, and the Intelligence Community, which consists of 27 intelligence and security bodies, as well as domestic and border police force are included in that spectrum.


This bureaucratic conglomerate is an indispensable part of the strategic culture of the United States and governs all cultural attitudes from a strategic viewpoint. More specifically, every one of those organizations has its own professional culture; that is, professional culture of the State Department is different from that of the Defense Department, but they all constitute the bureaucratic conglomerate of the national security.


Regardless of responsibilities of their chiefs, every one of these institutions pursue their own bureaucratic ends and have their own experiences, attitudes, worldviews, priorities and concerns.


Attention should also be paid to the highest level of decision-making. Change of leaders affects performance and functions of those organizations. Understanding of the American strategic culture cannot be complete without analysis of personality traits of their chiefs. Therefore, changes that have been announced by Obama in his national security team over the past few weeks can be reviewed from this viewpoint. Thus, a combination of elites and bureaucracy should be taken into account in order to understand strategic culture of the United States.


In the case of Bin Laden, special attention should be paid to CIA and its affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Appointing General Petraeus as chief of CIA, dismissal of Panetta from the Defense Department and appointing Crocker as the US ambassador to Afghanistan should be analyzed along those lines. We will soon see the effects of those changes.


Retirement of Robert Gates is a considerable development because he was well-informed about the strategic culture of the United States and had risen to his post after going through the ranks of the American security and military establishment. He was among few secretaries who served both under Republican and Democrat presidents. Therefore, the void of his experience is hard to fill.


The changes will, however, alter the United States’ focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although the United States will be engaged in the region, the death of Bin Laden and reassignment of Petraeus, who was previously in charge of US military operations in that region, will pave the way for the withdrawal of the US forces from those countries. Of course, this will depend on the performance of each of those institutions and their heads, but this course of action will be taken in the next few months.


The ongoing excitement about the death of Bin Laden is temporary and the situation may take a new turn different from what Washington expects. Therefore, every one of those institutions will be facing their own specific challenges, thus highlighting the significance of political and strategic context as well as related feedbacks.


Political and strategic context and feedbacks


Concepts, symbols, bureaucracy and decision-makers are not the sole factors which determine final product of the American strategic culture. The changing context of the American domestic policy, changing context of regional politics and changing context of international policies also affect security performance of the United States.


Reports about the death of Bin Laden show that Afghanistan and Pakistan are still among the most dangerous regions of the world for the US strategy due to their complicated politico-security context.


This is a very important fact that Bin Laden has been living in a complex close to Islamabad where he would have needed permission of state officials. Will stability in Pakistan increase in the coming months? Or instability will prevail? This will have direct implications for regional policies of the United States and will also affect political context in the United States.


In addition, nobody can deny the connection between developments in the Arab Middle East and the turmoil which has been sweeping through North Africa and the Middle East and the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Therefore, the existing context is a problematic and confusing one.


The murder of Bin Laden will certainly increase Obama’s popularity in the United States and western countries, but will also raise concerns in certain regions about heightened activities of anti-American forces, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Therefore, political and security context is of utmost importance and will influence other factors. This context will finally determine the way that the elite will make decisions and the fate of the war on terror. (Iranian Diplomacy)

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